Being a fan of plain text files means that I am particularly picky about the services and tools that I sign up for. A service could have all the killer features that I need but if it can be made simpler by some scripting and text file, then I’ll opt for that instead.

It all about data access. If I can access my data that your service stores and export it to something else, without too much fuss might I add, then I’m already going to like your service.

Todoist are an example of a good service in my eyes. I have their app on my iPhone and MacBook and I use it daily. It’s a great service for managing your to do lists. The export facility though is a winner for me though. It does backups of all your to do lists on a regular basis for you. These backups can be downloaded (or exported if you want) to your computer. When you open them, the backup consists of a text file for each list with all your to dos listed in simple plain text.

At the other side, there are two types of services you need to watch for if access to plain text data is your key concern.

1. Services that don’t allow access to your data.

These services are thankfully becoming less frequent now thanks to the fact that of those services that don’t allow access to your data, there are some where you can at least access it through an API. Although this is only of benefit to developers, it does mean that with a little scripting you can grab your data and save it to a format that makes it easier for you to use.

The last time I checked, Path still doesn’t allow access to your data in any kind of format and their API isn’t published either which makes getting your data out and onto another network or journaling app much more of a manual process.

2. Services that allow access to your data but in a format other than plain text.

When I say a service uses something other than plain text, what I mean is that the format that they export to might be readable by any text editor but could be in a less friendly format like XML.

This is definitely down to personal choice and experience, but I am more comfortable working with JSON files than I am with a format like XML.

I use Evernote a lot now. Mostly for my freelancing work. When I exported some notes I created as part of my evaluation of it, I found that the notes were exported to a format of XML. Not user friendly at all if you don’t have any experience with programming and you want to take these notes to another package.

Thankfully though Evernote does export to HTML which is far easier to read and while the HTML can’t be imported back into Evernote should you need to, HTML is easier for reading your notes into another service.

This is the best of example I have of a service that exported to an unfriendly format. The reason why I still stuck with Evernote was that I can export the notes to HTML which is easier for me to script than XML.

Plain Text Please

If a service exported to anything more complicated than flat file with XML based markup then I wouldn’t use that service. It’s just a matter of having my data accessible in a format that doesn’t inconvenience me.

Data access is a key criteria for me when assessing services that I want to use. My data should be accessible and ideally in a format that doesn’t need a programmer to make sense of. Plain text formats win in this aspect due to their instant readability. Everything else is just a hindrance in my eyes.

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